Double Double – Ellery Queen (1950)

It’s impressive to think that a detective novel could feature seven murders, and yet not for a moment feel like a mystery.  How the writing duo of Ellery Queen pulled it off, I’m still not quite sure.  Double Double follows detective Queen going about his days doing a bunch of things – playing matchmaker, buying a swimsuit, going on a picnic, getting a drink at a bar – and it ends up feeling like a book about a man with nothing better to do than running a never ending series of whimsical errands.  Yeah, people do occasionally wind up dead (quite a few of them, in fact), but there’s just never a mystique to it or a sense of purpose.

We’re back in the small town of Wrightsville, for what is apparently the last of the Queen novels set there, and wow, I guess I actually read them all in order.  This is the sixth Queen in a row that I’ve consumed in sequence, starting with Calamity Town (1942), and correct me if I’m wrong, but I’ve just passed through what’s regarded as his better work.  I’ll leave that discussion for another time, but “meh”.  Calamity Town was the obvious highlight, shifting the Queen stories to something with a bit of humanity in them; this in the form of the living/breathing town of Wrightsville.  Then the stories became a bit too much about humanity, with Queen becoming a shell shocked charade of perpetual self doubt.  I guess we’re kind of straddling that with Double Double.  Queen’s still incredibly gun shy and riddled with misgivings, and it gets a bit tiring watching him second guess himself for 250 pages.  Wrightsville too is a shell of its former self; a never ending list of townsfolk and landmarks, but the spark that animated it all in Calamity Town and The Murderer is a Fox is missing here.

The story opens with detective Queen back at home in New York City, where he receives a series of anonymous letters featuring news clippings detailing the passing away of three Wrightsville citizens.  The deaths all seem natural enough, but there’s the odd coincidence that each of the deceased were connected with each other.  The letters are soon followed by the appearance of “a child in the hall”, who turns out to be a “little girl” from Wrightsville.  Ellery soon realizes that this “child” is in fact 22, and immediately catches feelings for her.

“She was like a miniature fruit at its ripest.  A child giving off a womanly disturbance.”

Er… yeah.  So that part was a bit uncomfortable.  Anyway, Ellery ends up going back to Wrightsville to investigate the death of the girl’s father, and that kickstarts an eventual four other murders.  The authors decide to throw in a nursery rhyme motif (which was apparently all the rage at the time in mystery novels; why I’ll never understand), and the murders all follow a pattern fitting “rich man, poor man, beggar man, thief…”  There’s nothing especially memorable about any of the murders, nor the solution, although I’ll admit that I had been fixated on what turned out to be a false solution.

Overall there’s nothing especially bad about Double Double, it simply lacks anything that makes it worth reading.  With that said you’ll be seeing me continue to dabble in the Ellery Queen novels.  I’m curious to read The King is Dead, as it’s a fixture of locked room mystery lists (although I’ve heard it isn’t quite deserving of the reputation), and I only have The Origin of Evil to read before I get there.  So yeah, I don’t know why I keep doing it, but I’m going to keep on with it.

My edition

I ended up with a 1965 Dell edition of Double Double , which has a similar cover art style to the Agatha Christie books released by the publisher during the same period.  My cover plays up the presence of “a set of identical twins” in the novel, which had me confused while I was reading, because while there are characters that fit the bill, they play almost no role in the story.  The choice of the illustration is interesting, and there’s a definite point midway through where you realize the significance of the collection of seemingly random objects that are pictured.

8 thoughts on “Double Double – Ellery Queen (1950)”

  1. Nope, there’s one more Wrightsville novel, and it’s the worst of the lot: The Last Woman in His Life. But it does t feel like a Wrightsville novel at all.

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  2. “Lacks anything that makes it worth reading” is a pretty fair description of this book. But definitely don’t miss THE ORIGIN OF EVIL, which has one of the wildest twist endings EQ ever came up with.

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    1. Thanks for the confirmation on The Origin of Evil. I couldn’t recall whether or not it had a good reputation and seem to have mixed it up with Double Double. I bought a Pocket Book edition of it a few weeks ago, and it has an absolutely killer cover. For that matter, there are three other covers for the book that I’m dying to get my hands on, and maybe I’ll use your comment as an excuse to pick one of them up…

      Liked by 1 person

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